Eight days after a student armed with a shotgun, ammunition and Molotov cocktails entered Arapahoe High School in Centennial, CO on December 13th, 17-year-old Claire Davis died from the injuries sustained after being shot by her classmate. The shooting occurred one day before the one-year anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, when a gunman killed 20 children and six adults in Newtown, CT. With the recent threat of explosives at Harvard University and a gunman on Yale’s campus, the threats to campus safety seem to be at an all-time high. One company, LiveSafe, provider of a comprehensive mobile safety app, is looking to revolutionize the way in which students and campus police can work together to identify potential threats, prevent crimes, receive urgent alerts and save lives.
“If you create a culture where people are empowered and feel it’s their duty to share information that can make a difference, a lot of the things happening today would be prevented,” said Jenny Abramson, who joined LiveSafe as CEO and President in October 2013.
LiveSafe, Inc. leverages the expansive use of smartphones to create a mobile safety solution that establishes a real-time, two-way communication channel between students and campus police. It takes a proactive approach to preventing crime and keeping schools safe. In times of crisis or distress, LiveSafe also enables first responders to respond both smarter and faster. The comprehensive features that comprise the app draw their inspiration from crimes experienced by founding team members Shy Pahlevani and Kristina Anderson. Pahlevani was the victim of a mugging at gunpoint while on Capitol Hill and Anderson was shot during the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings.
“According to the FBI, as many as one in 25 college students will experience crime during their four years at school, and eleven hundred suicides take place on college campuses each year. There are 1.9 million crimes committed in US public schools every year and then, on top of that, 53% of violent crimes go unreported.”
Based on the idea of crowdsourcing public safety information, students who download the free app to their iPhones or Androids can send non-emergency tips to campus police regarding incidents such as vandalism, drugs or alcohol, bullying, mental health concerns, assault, theft, hit and runs, or any activity that seems suspicious, through a cloud-based command dashboard.
“We had one school tell us that they’re getting 10x the volume of actionable information than they’d gotten before, and yet they’re not having to spend any more on resources because of the way it all comes in is so efficiently.”
GPS-tagged picture, video and audio can be included in these reports, all of which can be sent anonymously. In fact, the anonymity option when sending each tip has played a significant role in students’ willingness to use the app.
“People are more willing to share because they don’t have to get involved in the crime itself, or worry about having to testify in court. They can help without concern of having to burden themselves.
In an emergency, students can call 911 or contact campus police with one tap on the screen, and can speak directly to a safety official or discreetly exchange text messages through the app. The GPS location and user’s profile information is automatically included with distress calls which helps accelerate emergency response times.
“Most people don’t know the number for campus police and most people don’t use those blue-light phones that are sitting on their campuses because it isn’t practical to stand there to wait for help when they’re being attacked.”
To increase overall safety awareness, students can access an interactive map, which shows the latest crime information near their current location, as well as the nearest hospitals, police stations or shelters.
“People tell us one of the main reasons they like us is that the interface is such an intuitive experience. Users, therefore, are so much more engaged, and that’s partly because of the safety map.”
If students feel uneasy about traveling on a particular route or alone at night, they can connect with a family member or friend who can monitor their location via GPS until they arrive at their destinations.
“This is a situation of, I’m walking home late from the library, I’m a little nervous and I’d like my boyfriend to keep track of me for the next 20 minutes. I hit a button for him to monitor me, and he gets a text message that gives him my GPS location on a map. It shows me moving along, and will let him know when I’ve reached my destination, or if I need help. He doesn’t need to have the app for it to work. All he needs is Internet connection. Once I arrive, I hit the “I’m Safe” button and he can no longer track me.
Additionally, safety broadcasts sent by campus police through the app’s multi-layered communication platform allow students to receive real-time alerts via email, text message and push notifications.
LiveSafe also works with an expert group of advisors to maximize the app’s potential, including Mark Sullivan, who served as Director of the United States Secret Service for 7 years, and Janice Fedarcyk, who served with the FBI for 25 years and was the highest ranking female in US law enforcement.
“We’re actually stopping crimes and great tips are coming in that are making a difference in a completely new way.”
While schools pay for the dashboard that gives access to the two-way communication channel between their students and campus police, students are able to download the app to their iPhone or Android for free from iTunes or Google Play.
“For schools, the integration is very easy with their core system. A lot of our investment has been focused on making that easy.”
The company received funding from Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology GAP Funds in November and plans to use the financing to reach more schools and more people faster, as well as to continue to improve the product.
Social media, thought leadership articles and speaking engagements at conferences with police chiefs have been the company’s source for creating public awareness about the app, but the real champion of marketing LiveSafe has been the word of mouth generated by the students, faculty and parents themselves, who see the necessity of using the app at school campuses.
“One of the most common ways that we’re ending up in schools is when members of student government or parents call university presidents and say they need to have this, and then we do everything we can to make it work for that school.”
Many colleges across the country are using the personal safety app to great effect. Some of these include the University of Baltimore, University of New Hampshire, Virginia Commonwealth University, Savannah College of Art and Design and Winthrop University.
While LiveSafe is primarily focused on school campuses, the app has received interest from military bases, as well as city law enforcement. The Andalusia City Police Department in Covington County, AL, as well as departments in Spokane, WA and Rockville, MD, have partnered with LiveSafe to offer the app to their residents.
As the app continues to expand its reach, Abramson hopes to one day see every student in the country using LiveSafe to help keep themselves and their communities safer.
“LiveSafe is intuitive. It really works and the more people who have it, the safer we’re all going to be.”